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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Danielle Warren on Fostering Ethical Decision-Making

"Students need to grapple with ethical dilemmas in the classroom in order to build critical thinking skills for their careers."

Dr. Danielle Warren, PhD, is a Professor at Rutgers Business School - Newark & New Brunswick and has been teaching on the Newark campus since 2001. Throughout her time at Rutgers, she has found ways to bring the ethical dilemmas that she explores in her research back to the classroom. In doing so, students practice ethical decision-making before facing dilemmas in their professional lives. She views her classroom as a lab for critical thinking and helps students learn how to navigate tough situations using a variety of frameworks grounded in philosophical theory. Dr. Warren received the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2021.

Q: How does your research, scholarship or professional experience inspire your teaching?

A: A large part of my research focuses on understanding why good people

find themselves engaging in unethical behavior and how to get them to speak up when they see wrongdoing. I believe this research enables me to help students avoid ethical pitfalls in the business world. For instance, a subset of my research focuses upon ethical decision frameworks that firms often give employees to guide their thought process towards more ethical behaviors. I also research the financial incentives and social pressures that can encourage employees to engage in unethical behaviors. By educating students on the ways in which workplace incentives and pressures can shift an employee's moral compass and providing tools to resist such influence, I put my research into practice.

Q: What is one innovative or unique teaching practice you’d like to share?

A: I believe students need to grapple with ethical dilemmas in the classroom in order to build critical thinking skills for their careers. I dedicate class time to structured debates where groups of students are assigned different sides of an issue such as firms using technology to track customers or a firm’s responsibility for labor conditions in factories where they outsource products. Importantly, I do not allow them to choose their sides, and their assigned positions often conflict with their personal beliefs. Not only do the debates allow students to practice vocalizing different perspectives, but they build confidence in discussing ethical issues in a respectful, constructive manner. While the topics we discuss can be quite thorny, I model in class how you can push back on arguments in ways that are thought provoking, rather than personal and threatening. Sometimes I will debate myself so students see how to form arguments on both sides of an issue. By arguing the other side, students develop an understanding of different perspectives, which builds their critical thinking skills.

I believe students learn a lot by experimenting with different arguments, especially if the others participating in the debate realize that the arguments offered may not align with the students’ personal beliefs. At the end of the debate, I ask the students to vote on which side of the debate they found to be more persuasive and then we dissect the arguments on both sides with a specific focus on philosophical concepts, such as personal rights, justice, virtues. By the end of the semester, the students are excellent at debating issues. They go straight to the underlying normative tensions (e.g., Right to Property versus Right to Privacy) and form arguments that reflect the complexity of an issue. Now more than ever, business leaders are expected to speak out on a variety of societal issues that impact business and it is important that our students learn how to approach these discussions in a thoughtful and respectful manner, especially when they disagree. Being able to understand the other side of an issue provides students with the ability to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Q: How does this work advance the university's mission as a publicly-engaged anchor institution?

A: I believe my course gives students an understanding of how engaging in business has important implications for society and provides a set of tools for improving ethical reasoning. My course not only focuses on the social dynamics but also the philosophical foundations that underlie an individual's "moral compass." While our students need to learn how to grapple with ethical dilemmas at work, our communities also need citizens who can engage in meaningful dialogue regarding important societal and environmental issues, many of which are affected by business practices. My hope is that students leave my classroom ready to engage in important conversations regarding ethical business practices as both businesspeople and citizens.

To learn more about Dr. Warren's research and teaching, you can also:


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